Alba was forty-three.
Wasn’t a sudden development but a slow gradual decline. A sense of closing, riot gates, fences. The summer sidewalk after a brief rain. The smell of bacalao y vianda.
Forty-three had been building up for a long time. It was the new wrinkles and creases during those late night inspections, after Raul had drained himself and she was left to wonder why he wasn’t so interested. He faded into sleep with such contented relish.
The stale mornings depressed her, and the coffee grounds weren’t talking. Bare, empty days with harsh sunlight streaming. The night was the only time to redeem herself. Was it his snoring that drove her off the bed and to the bottle? The half?light that came through the window could be yellowy, like moonlight. Real moon could not penetrate that wall of windows that was the back view. She had to pretend. She could play the radio softly. The liquor would tingle her. The radio would play ballads. She could sit silent and pretend that was the moon stroking her thighs. Leaves would whisper someplace and paint patterns on the far wall.
Why doesn’t he kiss her anymore? His face pulls away at the last moment, always turns to break off that kiss.
“Maybe it’s my breath,” Alba said. She breathed in Pepa’s face, but her friend only laughed.
“Maybe it’s your husband. That ever occur to you?”
Alba shushed her with a hand, time to stop talking about it. Moving up the steps but Pepa was right behind.
“Why is it the woman always blames herself? Can you tell me why it has to be your fault? Why isn’t it his fault? You’re not no perra, you know. Take a good look at what you ended up with.”
The silence fell like always after one of Pepa’s outbursts.
She argued about politics and certain scenes in movies with the same passion. Alba and her friends admired her. It had everything to do with her being divorced and living like a single woman in that big two-bedroom apartment: no chains, no strands of mango between her teeth and men would come and sleep with her. The ladies in Alba’s group were all married, and nearly all were unhappy. Sitting with Pepa some nights on the stoop was good for those lengthy marriage woe chats, but once Raul went by on the stoop Alba would trail off behind her man and the other ladies would troop along behind theirs. It was the same tired ritual, freedom as drudgery. The ladies felt like inmates. The husbands would play their nightly domino game under the bodega awning and come home rum-scented. Alba would be anxious, hoping that maybe now it was her turn. The flowered dress she had worn and those sandals. Hadn’t worn sandals since Santurce, and high school. He hadn’t said a word, though some other men noticed the flower in her hair. It wasn’t until she was slipping into bed beside him that he made his feelings known.
“You should get some shoes,” he said. “Old women should never show their feet.”
“What did you say back?”
Pepita was furious when she heard. “What did you say back to him when he said that?”
“I didn’t say anything. ”
“You didn’t? How could you let him get away with saying something so nasty? The fat bastid. I would’ve kicked his ass! You should divorce the crumb for mental cruelty.”
Pepita paced along the stoop as if she might soon hit somebody.
“Shit. You just don’t talk about a woman’s feet. That’s just inhuman.”
“You’re always talking that shit,” Alba said, snapping from the numb. “‘You should divorce the crumb.’ ‘You should kick him out.’ Just because it was the answer for you. You told Clarissa she should divorce Joe. You told Naomi she should drop Victor. Is that your answer for everything? Me and Raul have been married twenty years . . . ”
“Yeah. I read an article about that shit. People who couldn’t leave the concentration camp, even after they had been liberated.”
“That’s not fair,” Clarissa said, looking at Alba to make sure it was her turn. She was short and spunky. Could talk for hours. Had a laugh like a mockingbird and a shrug that was supposed to explain everything. “lt doesn’t mean we’re scared to divorce. It means that we won’t because we see how fucking miserable you are without a full-time man.”
The four of them froze, Clarissa looking the most horror stricken of all.
“Who says I’m unhappy?”
A note of hurt in Pepa’s voice. Made it hard to breathe.
“I was wrong to open up to you,” she said.
“Ay chica, she’s not sayin that,” Naomi put in, now getting irritated. It was usually what it took to get her to speak. “Just stop overreacting.”
“It’s not about all that,” Alba said like she must put a stop to it. “We all envy you because you’re so free. You get to go on dates and have men come up to your house.”
“Like that hunky Cheyenne-looking kid last week,” Naomi said.
“But then we see how much you’re crying after, and how you complain about getting an appetizer but never a meal. And we all think about how we don’t want that part. A lot of us already have that part.”
“Yeah, but I don’t gotta ever sleep alone,” Naomi said.
“You might as well.” Pepa headed for the vestibule door to make her exit.
“Thass my business, right?”
Naomi had a way of standing that meant war. She had a black china doll face and thick black hair, but she was muscular. She used to do gymnastics and even boxed in high school. They thought she was always getting into fights because sometimes she was all bruised up, even her face but once they got to know her they realized it was nothing her husband Joe was just a hitter. He had thick arms and fat fists. Naomi probably stood in front of him the way she was standing now. A guy who is built like a Joe probably doesn’t take that. Pepa only smirked.
“Why don’t you try that shit on Joe?”
“I do,” Naomi said to the creaking door. “I’m not scared of him.”
Alba covered her face, feeling like she was trapped on a lifeboat with these friends. No land anywhere, and they were running out of food. The clatter of the nightly dominoes. Clarissa felt sure the UPS guy was hot for her. Naomi started smoking pot. The men slam dominoes down hard.
Abraham Rodriguez, Jr. and Nerve.com
Some nights, he came in smelling like gasoline.
Raul drove a truck for twelve years. Distance used to fuel his passion, but one day he sold the rig. Bought into a gas station by the Bruckner Expressway with some partners, and everything changed. Raul worked there every day in the beginning, and then he went less and less. They took a trip to Aruba one year, then that cruise to St. Croix. Then the trips stopped. He was saving money like a pack rat for some unknown reason. He stopped taking time off to be with her, and would go in to work. Be gone all day, three or four days a week, even though she knew he was the owner and could stay home more if he wanted to.
She visited him at work. She found he had a little room in the back. A single bed, why? A cubby, a hamlet. A fuck spot. So the old man was a bachelor when he was away, was that it? Her visits were more like surprise inspections. The workers there all resented her, as if they all were in on the secret. Raul worked all day, and then his nights were taken up with those domino games, those rowdy pals, the warm rum scent. All she knew was that he wasn’t fucking her now. He would say things about old age and why was she always pressuring him when he was this old man? His body wasn’t stripling taut, but droopy flab with somewhat of a pouch but she still wanted him. Those few times when she felt something happen with him made her feel that it was still possible, that he was there somewhere but hiding. He was holding something back from her. What with his not wanting to spend time with her, and that cubby bedroom at the station, she began to think he was giving it to someone else. That clattery sound of dominoes. The table of man faces, laughing their jokes, passing their palitos . . . there was a time when Raul used to play with her. She could beat him some nights, and they would lie lazy fucking in the rum fumes. Now he plays nightly with the men Old Charco said they should play like the Cubans and not allow women and so Raul and Victor and Joe sit round with Old Charco the white-haired sleeze and Mellao, who places his teeth in a cup. The wives could do whatever. If the men needed to be away from them, why didn’t the women go out together? Why couldn’t they all just go downtown, maybe dancing and bar hopping? Alba’s urges fell on deaf ears. The married ladies all felt that was na?ve. They didn’t think that being forty was some kind of big draw, and saw Pepa’s need to go out and fuck young men as a way of holding onto youth, of being in denial. Nobody in Alba’s group was kidding themselves about being old. They all felt it, they all reminded each other. Alba was tired of hearing it, that sound of resignation. “When you get to our age, what can you expect?” “We’re no longer young anymore.” “The music stopped playing at our dance a long time ago,” Clarissa said recently, and that was it Alba raced up the stairs. Threw herself burning into bed. A drink, two, three, to kill the flames. She decided she would not hang out with the ladies anymore. One week, almost two, and no one had seen her haunt the stoop.
Some nights, he touched her with those rough hands and gave her chills. His hands always went the same places, as if he had worn grooves into her. The same song and dance. Raul’s idea of foreplay was pushing her head into his crotch.
So, her fake moonlight, her pretend stars. The radio playing low in dark kitchen. Fake moonlight stroking her thighs. Parted the faded curtains that smelled like years of cooking. The wall of windows facing her all dark, except for that one place. It was a floor below, but in this cozy alley the light was bright enough to make her feel like it could be moonlight. It was always the only window lit, a bulby yellow glow that comforted her like a lemon drop. She could not pull her eyes away from the gleam, imagining that she could see through the blinds. Someone like her, up at three in the morning, not sleeping. Not comforted by the afterglow of passionate sex. Or was it sex that was going on there, performed with lights blazing like a stage? The thought of two people fucking in all that light filled her burning, an itchy panic. The bottle would wet-kiss her, the breeze sliding up her thighs. A stinging, hot lover. The embrace of shudders, and how her toes gripped the sill.
One day, Clarissa was knocking. She was holding a cup like she needed sugar.
“Can we talk?”
Alba let her in. She was cutting chicken and seasoning it. She went on with her tasks as if she didn’t have company.
“So honey. What’s wrong? You haven’t been around.”
“I don’t care,” Alba said.
“But why? What did we do wrong? Is there something we can do?”
“I don’t care.”
“Maybe this isn’t you talking. You know how it gets when a woman hits a certain age.”
Alba stared at her.
Raul always liked Clarissa. Would sometimes comment on how she wore those tight pants or that red blouse, he would roll his eyes like he was making a joke, but he noticed, he noticed while Alba’s efforts went unnoticed. Her daily actions did not send ripples, caused no currents to swell. There wasn’t a dress she could wear, a scent or aroma that could awaken him. She had thought all along that it was his age fifty-one but she knew of men having affairs well into their sixties and seventies. Sometimes when a man turns off, it could be he turns on somewhere else.
“I mean, it could be menopause. I get pretty moody myself sometimes. But that’s no reason to lock yourself up in the house. You have to get out, muchacha.”
Clarissa was still holding that cup. Alba thought about that night she had been drinking with Naomi and Pepa. Letting the slow night-talk wash over her while her husband slammed down dominoes. Laughter and rum coughs, and Naomi had to brag. It was all about her teenage friend who sold her the smoke.
“He wants to fuck me,” she said, her eyes all luminous. Pepa nodded significantly and started her rap about the perils of marriage and guilt when Alba noticed her husband was not sitting on his crate. A new game had started without him. The loud clatter irritated her as Old Charco mixed the bone-white pieces.
“I’m telling you that you can always tell when he’s unfaithful. They’re all like dogs, they have a smell. He comes home tired, he don’t wanna touch you. I used to blame myself.” Pepa was revving herself up for the punchline with that extra sip of rum. “But it wasn’t that the bastid didn’t want me. It was that he had shot his wad someplace else!”
The other game starting, another round of rum, Raul’s space was empty. Why not? Why wasn’t it possible that he had run off to have himself a quickie?
“People should accept when it’s over, is all that I’m saying. It don’t pay to fool yourself, when you’re the one getting screwed!”
Alba started walking. She knew the general direction Raul had gone. She walked that way, she walked back and forth like she was trying to pick up a scent. Romantic salsa was playing. For some reason, she thought of Naomi. She was the youngest looking of all of them, her body supple and smooth. Her Victor was a stallion beside Raul. Raul was more like an old sack. She hated him. She hated that he was “hers,” that she was searching for him. By the time she came across Clarissa, slinking along that alley, Raul was already lighting a new cigar at the domino table. He drew his seven like always, and dropped the first double six.
Clarissa hadn’t said anything. She turned so pale and seemed so cornered that Alba couldn’t say anything, either. She passed Alba by quick with a nod, eyes jumping away. Her lopsided flats made dragging sounds.
Now Clarissa stood in her kitchen, holding that cup. Alba cleaved that chicken leg to chunks. They had shared no words about that scene. Alba just got quieter, just like now.
“Pero muchacha, que pasa?”
“I just want to be left alone.”
Clarissa left after that, still clutching her cup.
Abraham Rodriguez, Jr. and Nerve.com
“Tell me what’s going on,” she said into the dark. A rum swimminess, a circular spin.
“There’s nothing going on.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
He took a deep breath before jumping in. “You’re the one who says something’s wrong. I’m perfectly happy to be here. Everything is just fine for me. What more do you want? What am I not living up to now?”
“You spend the whole day at work. Then you spend the night playing dominoes. When do I get to see you?”
“When you come barging into work to check on me, that’s when. Do you know how bad that looks?”
“I don’t care. You say you’re working all day, and when I go over there you’re gone.”
“I had to drive to Whitestone to settle some business. Does it surprise you that I’m doing my job?”
Alba was trying to breathe. There was no air. Someone was sitting on her chest.
“There’s someone else, Raul.”
He turned to look at her. She felt the bed shake.
“You? You have someone else?”
He checked her eyes in the half-dark. Must have gotten the answer in there somewhere when she couldn’t stare back. The bed creaked as he turned his back to her. His slow, deep breaths. As if he had forgotten her already. The deep insulation of sleep. How she longed for it.
“You don’t think I could have somebody, do you?”
Her question went unanswered. It stayed with her as the night crawled to day. Another fake moon, dreamy images through the blinds. There could be someone behind those blinds, just for her. The man was offering her another drink. Felt tremendously aware of her body, like a tingling. There was a blush all over her skin. Champagne, when was the last time she had champagne? The man was not at all like Raul. He lingered over her long, no rush. Someone she could summon at will. The fake moonlight stayed until morning sun began to spread light. By this time she was spent from her lover, drenched in sweat and longing for the black nada of sleep.
A few burnt dinners, and he had no reason to stop by before dominoes at all the cuchifriteria on the corner was more than happy to deliver tostones and chuletas. By the time he came in around one in the morning, she was already parked by her kitchen window with her bottle. She barely moved even when he squeezed past.
“You plan to stay there all night?” he asked, like that would coax her back to bed.
She didn’t have to answer him. She didn’t want to sleep beside him. Day into night into day and it was the same empty house.
This was why she started to stop by the stoop again, if only to get out. Say words, see people. Breathe the outside air like people. Pausing to share a few thoughts with Pepa or Naomi. They talked like they missed her, but none of them had knocked on her door.
Naomi was distracted and somehow radiant. She had on new clothes and a bracelet that Victor had gotten her.
“I did it,” she said, laughing. “I fucked another man last night.”
“You mean that brat from the high school?” Pepa’s yell echoed all into the stairwell. Naomi shushed her some nodding, laughing.
“I did it. But, you know. Big deal.”
“ls that all you have to say about it? Come on!” Pepa would not stop yelling.
Alba wasn’t laughing. She flicked ash off her cigarette.
“How did it feel,” she asked, whispered, chanted.
“It wasn’t anything. I thought it was gonna be a big deal, and it was nothing, lt made me fall in love with Victor all over again.”
The bruise on her cheek from some last time made her look like she was wincing. Alba hid her disappointment by saying nothing. It figures, she thought. It figures that there would be no effect.
Nothing ever happens to them, or to me. That’s why they’re my friends.
Then Clarissa walked in. The talk about Naomi’s little affair had put the burning in Alba’s stomach. Clarissa got the poop from Pepa and was soon laughing, too.
“Haven’t you ever done that before?” Alba asked her with a corrosive grin. Clarissa’s smile faded, her eyes getting jumpy again. “Come on, Clarissa. The talk is you’ve been having an affair right under our noses.”
“Who said that?” Clarissa asked, looking over at Pepa, who seemed just as startled. “Who’s been saying that?”
“Why don’t you want to tell us who you’ve been screwing on the side?”
“There’s been no one.” Clarissa checked the eyes around her no place seemed safe. “Nobody, Pepa. I swear. I mean, I wish. I wish there was someone.”
“Would you do a thing like that? Fuck around on Joe?”
“What’s with you?” Pepa examined Alba’s face for traces, but there was nothing. Exit, up to the burning bed. The tinkle of those empty bottles. She was by the window again when he came in. The lights were out, and she was already bathed in fake moonlight.
“You’d rather sit there, than come to bed?”
She only sat there, fanning her thighs with the TV Guide. Did it bother him to sleep alone? She was hoping so, but he was soon snoring. The clock heartbeat. The liquid squish sound when she took another sip. Kissing that bottle glass. A burning kiss, flowing through her chest. Head thrown back, hair almost ticklish. Right up against window glass she was, looking right down into her moon. The windows all around were dark, asleep, the stairwell windows going up, open and empty. There was no one living in her world, nowhere. There was only her night-light, her place to dream. She focused all her heart energy on those blinds drawn across the light like thin slashes, when she noticed. No dream. Kissed that bottle again like the liquid would clear her vision. The dark burning spread with every heart pound.
She could see through the blinds.
The room pulsed behind them, with light from the huge TV screen. Shadows snaked up and down the walls. There was a carpet of bed that spread from the base of the TV, and he was on it.
She could see his body spread out like a landscape. He was slim, but toned. There was nothing boyish about his nakedness, or the way he lay on that bed. One hand caressed a bottle. The other hand . . .
Alba stepped back from the window, pulse beating like timbales. She feared Raul coming up behind her. Listened for the sound of his breathing, that heavy slow ship at sea. She could not tear her eyes away from the naked young man. Was it real? The buzz of drink made her unsure. She had stared so many times at that same window and dreamed so many scenes. Now she sat in that chair, the bottle stroking her thighs, her toes flexing for grip on the gritty window sill. No sound, no music, no sense of drifting, just the heavy tick of that kitchen clock and her heavy up and down breath. The pounding of the waves. Raul was asleep, and she was alive, awake, pulsing. Her body was a throbbing naked nerve.
There was a woman on the big TV screen. She was cut into thin strips by the blinds. She was blond, she was laughing. She was holding a drink, and toasting the camera. The guy in bed held up his bottle to return the salute. Her laughing face filled the screen. Alba took another drink of flame.
Was she falling? She checked the other windows in the alley for faces, but they were all black. The blond girl on the screen slithered out of the bra. She was on top of a guy. The guy’s hands slid up the curve of her waist. The TV screen was flashing. Her hair swung and wriggled. She was biting her lip. The clock was ticking louder, faster. Her body pounded into his, arms thighs lips, she was shooting upwards, skies stars planets. His hand was moving quickly, jerking. His body pulsed spasms rocking. She felt herself swimming with him on that big flat carpet of bed.
The bottle rolled from his open hand. The bottle slipped from her fingers. It fell with a loud thump and then rolled. Liquid wet squishy splash. She didn’t move. Waited for waves to stop crashing.
Down below, the blond girl had changed direction. Now it was her round ass and curvy back. The show was not over.
Alba picked up the bottle. It was still worth kissing. She settled into her seat and angled it closer. Spread out her legs. Rubbed her thigh and sucked that kiss deep down her throat. She could go again. She didn’t have to stop. She could go again. Her young lover was still going. She raced to join him. Stride for stride, until light began to seep in, and the images stopped.
Abraham Rodriguez, Jr. and Nerve.com
Forty-three. The day after.
Last year he forgot, too. If it hadn’t been for his sister, Grace, who had flown in from Cleveland. Reminded him so he ended up leaving a card on the kitchen table. This year, no card. Grace, cutting those squares of arroz con dulce: “Don’t be so hard on him. Sometimes he can’t talk. Can’t find a way to show he cares.” His sister was an astute reader of the quips and silences that made up the marriage now. It was probably why she didn’t visit this year.
She was sitting in her chair by the window when he came in. There were three fresh new bottles on the table. When she bought them she told herself they would be the last. She was going to stop drinking because she had reached the place where she couldn’t tell if the drinking was the problem or whether the problem was making her drink. His eyes looked weary when they looked at her.
“You going to sit there all night again?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Why don’t you come to bed?”
“You mean after I’m asleep, don’t you?”
Why doesn’t he do something? Why won’t he come around the table and grab her? He should take her by the arms and drag her into the bedroom. He should pull off that thin breath of slip. He should fuck her, touch her, lay a claim. Plant a flag. Do something. Her legs were stretched out to the window, so brazen. Angrier, hungrier. Had she ever even had passion? Why did she want it now? She wanted to tell him that cars honked whenever she wore high heels. She was way too machua for an old bag like him.
“I don’t want to sleep,” she said.
Why didn’t he come closer? Her body was scented fresh with raspberry bubble bath.
“I was talking to Victor tonight. He thinks women reach an age where the man they’re with isn’t good enough anymore. They don’t want what they have. They want something else. Is that you? ls that what all this is about?”
He was talking, talking right to her. This was a good sign, wasn’t it? Her pulse more like a throb. Made it hard to talk.
She twisted open that first bottle.
“Why did you forget my birthday?”
A deep silence. He padded into the living room, his voice an afterthought: “I didn’t want to remind you you’re getting old.”
The liquor crashed waves on her beach. Her pulse jumped into gear. What good was it, him being able to talk, if he had nothing good to say? The clock ticked louder. Water rushing in the tub. She could hear him flush the toilet and head into the bedroom as if he lived alone. The creaky bed sound as his body sank into mattress. Soon, there would be the rise and fall of his sleep breath.
Swallowing the hot splash. Dancing colors licking flames, the feel of her thighs under the slip. She was forgetting him. Her face wet from heat, or tears. The fake moonlight glow.
She pulled the curtain aside.
He was lying on the bed at a flatter angle than last time, so that she could see more of him stretched out. The blanket barely covered one side of him, one leg. He was naked. His cock, growing harder in his jerking hand, made her feel a fiery sick trembling. What if Raul came up behind her?
She stood, one knee up on the sill. Pressing against window glass to feel that cool right through the slip. Breathing fast, alive, not that dead sea Raul breath it was the same blond girl again, the same tape. She was popping her bra off, and Alba throbbed with her movements, with his movements. The blond girl was sucking it. Scratching it, licking it, smacking it against her cheek. Breathing fast, her hand under her slip his rhythm, her rhythm. Alba’s eyes darted fearfully over all those dark windows in the alley. Maybe she was being seen. Could be a body in every window a man looks at a woman, a woman looks at a man looking at a woman, who’s looking at a man, on and on like some crazy play, some deep human connection, every body locked in timeless rhythm, pressed against glass. The blond girl was on top of the guy. Alba could not take her eyes off his young writhing form, and when she did it was only for a second. She caught a glimmer of light, some movement. Along that dim line of empty stairwell windows going up the side like buttons on a skirt, was one window with faces in it. Alba pressed farther to the side, to get a better view. The flashing light from the apartment filled the alley enough that it lit the faces, from time to time. Just enough that she could make out Pepa, Clarissa and Naomi. Bunched together at the open window, their eyes round and studious.
Alba pulled back from the window, red burning. Stumbled through dark kitchen to find where she had thrown her dress. Slipped it on fast. Heard her name: “Alba.” It was like the sound the radiator makes when the steam’s coming up. “Alba.” A statement, not a question. She crept up the stairs to where the ladies were.
Naomi saw her coming. She nudged the news to Pepa, who was beside her. Clarissa would not turn no matter what. She was in a bathrobe. Pepa was in shorts and sandals. Only Naomi looked like she had come right from the street. Alba came right up to look through the window with them.
From this angle it was even clearer. The young man was jerking his hard cock to the images, his body at an angle.
“I think he’s coming,” Clarissa said.
“Nah.” Naomi shoved for a better view. “That only happens when the blond girl sits on the guy’s face.”
“That’s right,” Pepa laughed, and then they were all looking at Alba. She gripped herself to try and stop the trembling.
“What, you mean you didn’t know about our friend down there? We call him Perverto.”
Alba felt insulted, as if something of hers was being spit on. Could not keep the anger from her voice.
“Why do you call him that? You’re the ones watching him.”
“You think he knows we’re watching?” Clarissa asked.
“Of course he do,” Naomi said. “We been watchin him a week already.”
Alba nudged Pepa aside. Her young lover, her secret stolen. Couldn’t stop the trembling.
“He watches the same video everytime,” Pepa said like she was the narrator. “Every night at around the same time. Like he’s worshipping. Like he’s not over it. Did you notice the guy on the tape is him?”
Alba, open-mouthed. Shook her head.
“Maybe that’s his ex-girlfriend,” Clarissa said.
“He sure has a nice cock,” Naomi said like she was dreaming.
“But how can he not know we’re watching him?” Clarissa bit her lip like it was bugging her.
“He’s doing it on purpose,” Naomi insisted.
“He’s not. He doesn’t know. Why don’t you go down there and tell him?”
Pepa looked at Alba like she was crazy.
“But then he’ll stop!”
Naomi started to giggle. Clarissa gave Alba’s arm a tug.
“Why don’t you go tell him?”
Alba made a move like she would. Naomi got right in her way.
“Don’t be a bitch, Alba. This is the most fun we’ve had all summer.”
“Besides,” Pepa pulled Alba back to the window, “you can’t tell me you don’t like to watch that. Our own private porno.”
“Who needs strippers?” Clarissa was laughing. “We got our own peep show!”
“But this is wrong,” Alba said weakly. The air was gone fron her lungs.
“Of course it is.” Pepa had that commanding tone now. “We should call the cops on that fucking pervert. But we’d rather not get him in trouble, right girls? We’d rather just watch.”
“Do you know he has earphones on?”
Clarissa’s words made them all return to the window. His body wriggled sideways, hand jerking that dick stiff quaking.
Naomi laughed low and throaty. “Men are so pathetic looking when they do that.”
“If they could see themselves,” giggled Clarissa.
Pepa reached out her hand. Put a finger right on a teardrop as it ran down Alba’s face.
Was that concern on her face, or was that mocking? Alba couldn’t tell anymore. The faces of friends had become unfathomable. Dark winding alleys. Every story a lie.
“We would’ve told you,” Pepa said, looking wide-eyed with sincerity. “We were going to. It was just that we didn’t know how you would take it, you being more normal than the rest of us.”
This was lost on Alba, some lesson from where? They had all been reading the wrong story in the collection so far, confusing her with some other character. As if she had been labelled and stamped and dials set accordingly. The pulsing stomach sick was on her. And then she heard that voice.
“Hey cabron! What the fuck you doing, ahh? Hijo de puta! I’m gonna kill you, you fucking cabron!”
Alba shivered. There, out her kitchen window, was Raul. His angry face floated in the dark like a paper cut-out.
“Oh shit, it’s your husband,” Clarissa said, covering her mouth. “He’s seen us!”
Alba pushed through shoulders, just as Raul left the window. Their friend below was still pumping his cock.
Abraham Rodriguez, Jr. and Nerve.com
The beam of a flashlight danced up and down alley brick like a fat white mouse. Just one flight down, she heard her door open. Raul, barefoot. Just jeans and his tank tee. He looked up, right at her. Just at her, and no one else.
“Raul,” she pleaded.
“Hey, what’s the stick for,” Pepa yelled.
Voices from everywhere, alley close.
“Whassup over there?”
“Some guy down there is jackin off, man.”
“Yo, close yuh blinds, man!”
“Why don’t somebody call the police?”
“Raul has a stick,” Clarissa said.
“So that’s why you liked the window so much, verdad?”
His words paralyzed her. Alba was all flaming liquid, maybe lava. Maybe napalm. She should have been burning, she was getting chills.
“You better nah be comin up here with that stick,” Naomi said in her loud fight voice.
Raul did not even see her. His wet eyes were glued to Alba.
“Yo lo mato,” he said, trembling so the stick twitched. “Yo lo voy a matar!”
He thumped fast down the stairs. Clarissa shook Alba, her round face creased and crinkled.
“You gotta do something. Raul’s gonna kill that guy!”
“He has earphones, he can’t hear,” somebody yelled.
“Yo’ Shut’cha blinds, man! We can see you!”
“The bastid likes it,” Naomi yelled into the alley. “He wanna be seen!”
“Hey Naomi!” The yell sounded like an angry father. “What the fuck you doin in that window?”
“Oh shit,” Naomi said. “It’s Victor.”
“Yo! Close them fucken blindsl” “Naomi! You get’cha ass up here now!”
Clarissa kept gripping Alba. She shook her off, eyes glued to her young lover in his throes. Voices rising falling in waves.
“Why donchu shut the fuck up?” Naomi screeched back at her husband. “You see me on the way up, donchu?”
“Well how the fuck long it gonna take you to get up them stairs, bitch?”
Pepa was breathing hard, right beside Alba.
More yelling. Legs thumping down stairs. Some small army deploying on the stairs. A door was being pounded. Every blow gave Alba the shivers. A choking panic. She couldn’t move. Clarissa was talking to her husband through the window.
“No, na’. Eso no fue na’. Que ibamos pasando cuando lo vimoh. Eso fue todo.”
“Look, he’s gettin up!” Naomi pointed. The guy frantic flipped off the earphones and slid into jeans, barechested tripping falling snapping the tape off. Scuttled up the path leading out of the room. Pounding louder. So much yelling, how many men yelling? The door must’ve opened. A crash and thunder and thumping feet. The alley was silent.
“Naomi. I’m not kidding. You get’cha ass up here now.”
“For the last time,” Naomi yelled, her head out the window, “you gonna come make me?”
“Oh God,” Clarissa said, as the young man’s body came tumbling back into the room. As if pushed falling struck grasping out blind at edges the room spinning fast. Raul swung his stick again. The loud crack. The young body crumpled backwards to crash against the window, his grasp wrenching the blinds down over him. Three or four other men poured into the room. Clarissa screamed, once, twice. The stick was swinging. Alba bit her lip until there was salty taste.
“Somebody should call the police,” Naomi said to no one. Neither did she move from her spot. “My God, listen’na that. They’re killing him.”
Pepa looked hypnotized. A tremor to her cheek, a twitch.
“I’m gonna call the cops right now,” she said, and with a look to Alba that could’ve meant anything, she headed upstairs.
Alba watched Raul until he was lost in the tumble spin of bodies that fell on the young man flailing kicking all intertwined like ants. The crack of the stick, broken twisted horrible. Screaming.
“The police,” Alba muttered to Naomi, who rested her chin on her palm to watch. “I’m going to call.”
Descending the stairs, the sick burning spin. Knees weak, slippery feel. Through the apartment she tumbled, past the kitchen window open so wide.
Abraham Rodriguez, Jr. and Nerve.com